This Pune startup aims to help manage organic waste at source with its in-house biogas plant
In 2011, when Dhananjay Abhang was working with First Energy, a Pune-based startup, little did he know that the pellet-based cookstoves the startup was manufacturing for bulk cooking also produced a hefty amount of food waste.
Dhananjay was not only uncomfortable to look at the tonnes of food waste being dumped in the nearby landfill, but was also worried about the serious health issues it harboured.
Speaking to SocialStory, Dhananjay says, “In some areas in Pune, local civic bodies collect food waste and send it to their centralised biogas plant for further processing. The collection of food waste involves human intervention, which may cause serious personal hygiene issues as well.”
Dysfunctional biogas plants and the hazardous work environment motivated Dhananjay to develop a technology to counter this issue. Thus, Cleanergy Tech Solutions was born to primarily focus on waste management, agriculture, and renewable energy.
Shantanu Khanwelkar (left) and Dhananjay Abhang (right), Co-founders of Cleanenergy Tech Solution
Started in 2017 with one plant as a pilot project at the Art of Living ashram, Pune, the startup has now commercially launched the product in Pune after its successful operation for a year.
Dhananjay adds, “At present, we are working with the Symbiosis International University. In the next financial year, we plan to expand to other cities in Maharashtra as well.”
Addressing the food waste issue
Dhananjay, along with co-founder Shantanu Khanwelkar, has developed a unique biogas technology known as the modular biogas technology, which will help eliminate the collection of food waste and process it at the source.
Shantanu has close to 10 years of experience in handling social projects with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ford Foundation. Dhananjay, on the other hand, holds an MBA degree from the Department of Management Sciences (PUMBA), University of Pune.
The conventional and existing biogas plants have been dysfunctional for many years due to the lack of technology in the field. This is where Cleanergy steps in to fill the gap by offering to set up its biogas plant known as ‘Swachhgas’ within a customer’s premises, which converts the organic waste into biogas.
Swachh Gas, a product of Cleanenergy Tech Solution
Dhananjay adds, “Initially, we assess the customer to understand the quantity of waste generated per day and the proposed site location. Based on these details, we design a customised biogas plant which will fit their requirement. We sell the biogas plant and also give long-term service commitment to the client.”
Once the biogas plant is set up, the startup offers training to the customers who operate the plant. We also provide a long-term service contract under which the startup tracks the key parameters of all its plants through a cloud-based monitoring system. The system helps the startup to maintain the plant’s performance at an optimum level without being physically present there.
Dhananjay says that a typical 0.5 million tonne per day plant would cost about Rs 23 lakh, which could be recovered in 2.5 years.
Cleanergy’s Swachhgas is an indigenously built biogas plant that composts a wide variety of organic waste. At present, the startup is working in urban areas where the Swachhgas plants provide a better solution for processing bulk organic waste.
“Our modular biogas plant is a plug and play system with minimal civil work required, and it is 30 percent more compact and 50 percent more efficient than traditional biogas plants. We offer design flexibility as per the client’s location. The plant is also equipped with a cloud-based monitoring system,” Dhananjay says.
The cloud-based monitoring system sends signals for the advanced parameters to the team, which can then detect any process imbalance in the plant at an early stage. The team analyses the key inputs daily, as well as assesses the plant’s performance, which helps the startup in guiding the plant operator and taking preventive measures at an early stage, avoiding a system breakdown.
The setup of the biogas plant
For rural areas, Cleanergy provides its Swachhgas plants to dairy farmers in a flat-pack, which can be carried on a two-wheeler and assembled within five to six hours. The startup’s Swachhgas plant comes with a service life of more than 10 years.
“We also offer flexible payment options to farmers with carefully designed credit plan as per their requirement, to ensure that they recover maximum value within less time,” Dhananjay adds.
In recent years, farmers have become inclined to use equipment that comes with the latest technology. For the same reason, Cleanergy conducts live demonstrations for farmers and potential dairy owners, building trust with its customers.
Shantanu says, “Once they show interest in our product, we conduct a baseline survey of customers to understand their requirements. We develop a customised solution, along with customised flexible payment options through our partner Micro Finance Institutions.”
The way ahead
Initially, Cleanergy’s co-founders used their savings to conduct research and trials, during which, the duo received adequate support from Vigyan Ashram, a Pune-based NGO supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), working in the field of rural technology development.
The organisation supported the startup by providing infrastructure for conducting initial trials and expert guidance on technology development.
“This year, we received incubation support from IIM-Calcutta Innovation Park, and received an investment through INVENT, which is supported by Villgro, Technology Development Board, and the UK Government,” Shantanu adds.
Dhananjay believes that certain factors like the Swachh Bharat Mission and sustainable development goals, among others, are accelerating the market. Further, certain organisations have already started taking serious steps towards sustainable business practices, which have led to a huge demand for decentralised biogas technology.
At present, the startup plans to launch its solution for dairy farmers in low-income states (LIS) of India through the support received from the INVENT programme. Initially, Cleanergy had planned the launch of its product in West Bengal.
Dhananjay says, “We will be slowly moving to other states. We are also thankful to Villgro and IIM-Calcutta Innovation Park for providing market linkages in LIS states.”
Apart from the co-founders, the startup also has two advisors – Arun Dixit and Manikprabhu Dhanorkar. Arun has an MSc degree in Chemistry from UDCT Mumbai and a PhD from NCL Pune, with a strong inclination towards developing waste management technologies. Manikprabhu, on the other hand, has 10 years of experience working on waste to energy projects.
The advisors have helped the startup in building the Swachhgas modular biogas plant.
(Edited by Suman Singh)